Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mixed Blood

Mixed Blood
Author: Roger Smith
Picador, 2009
320 pages

I needed a little break from North America and Europe, so I decided to look to Africa for my latest read. Roger Smith is a South African author and this was his first book (followed by Wake Up Dead in 2010 and Dust Devils in 2011 -- I predict that I'll be reading both of those). Mixed Blood is a thriller in the true sense: It had me from the first few pages, and never let me go. So I'm telling you now, be sure you have some time to read before starting this one, otherwise, if you're anything like me, you'll be very grumpy if interrupted.

Paul Burn is an American living in a posh area of Cape Town with his beautiful pregnant wife, Susan, and their young son, Matt. At first they seem to be a "normal" expat family. When a couple of local meth-heads breaks into their home and it seems like they're about to rape and kill them all, Paul turns the tables on them. Suddenly we're wondering who Paul is . . . or maybe what Paul is.

Before we find out, our attention is turned to another character, Benny Mongrel. Raised in the Cape Town area known as the Flats, Benny's a former gangsta who's trying to turn his life around after doing serious jail time. He works as a night watchman in the construction site next door to where the Burn family lives, and he witnesses the two thugs breaking in. He's quite surprised when, a short time later, instead of seeing them run back out and drive off in their red BMW, Paul Burn drives away in his Jeep.

Next we meet a rotten-to-the-core policeman named Rudi Barnard. He's a large, stinky, freak of a man and one of the most crooked cops I've come across in recent literature. Truly, he's a bad, bad dude.

Finally, we meet 'good cop' Disaster Zondi (who probably has one of the coolest character names ever). Zondi works out of a special unit in Johannesburg that investigates crooked cops, and Barnard is on his list. (By the time Zondi is introduced, you're totally ready for Barnard to get his karma.)

The stories of the four men come together in this rollercoaster ride of a novel. Along the way, we learn quite a bit about the complexities of South African culture -- and It's Complicated. But it's also a stunningly beautiful country, and Cape Town is widely known to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. To me, that's what makes it the perfect setting for this very raw and gritty story.